You have daily food allergy management down pat.
Your child's epinephrine auto-injectors go everywhere. The allergist is on speed dial. You know the best local stores and restaurants for safe foods. You've trained babysitters and the staff at school.
You're ready for anything – right?
Think again. Many families are masters at managing daily life with food allergies. But are you ready for emergencies, such as major weather events or power outages, that could leave you stranded for days or weeks? Restricted diets require extra planning for emergency preparedness.
Some disasters, such as tornadoes and earthquakes, occur with little to no warning. There is only time to get your family to safety. Not only could your home suffer damage or worse, but the businesses you rely on may as well, or become unreachable or out of service.
Hurricanes and flooding may force you out of your home and into a shelter. Snow and ice can cause long power outages. Grocery stores and pharmacies are vulnerable to power loss.
Roads can get washed out, covered by debris, or coated in ice.
Any of these events could leave you without critical items for your food allergic child, such as medicines and safe food.
In other words, restricted diets need extra planning for emergency preparedness.
This planning will help you cope during and after the emergency. Building a disaster kit that's always ready to grab and go is an easy way to prepare. Keep it in a safe place where adults can get to it fast.
What should you put in a disaster kit? That depends on your child's medical and food allergy needs as well as the types of emergencies that are most likely to occur in your area.
Here are some suggestions for things to consider. It is not intended as a complete list. But it will help get you started.
- Medicines and medical supplies
- Safe food
- Other supplies you may find helpful
Medicines and Medical Supplies
Make sure that you have enough of your child's medicines on hand at all times.
This includes daily medicines, such as:
- Emergency medicines, such as epinephrine in case of anaphylaxis
- Asthma inhalers
- And any others prescribed by your child's doctor
If your child takes compounded medicines (medicine custom-mixed by a special pharmacy) include those as well. This may even include painkillers and fever reducers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Remember to include eczema creams and other medications.
The American Red Cross recommends including a seven-day supply of medicines in your disaster kit. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a 30-day supply of medicines is ideal. Label the kit with the date of the first medicine to expire, and check the kit frequently. Your pharmacist may be able to supply you with extra labels and vials so that all medicines are properly labeled.
It's also a good idea to include basic first aid supplies with bandages, antibiotic cream, etc. If someone is allergic to latex, make sure your kit is latex free.
For children with feeding tubes, include formula or special medical foods, extra tube supplies and formula bags.
Make note of the expiration dates and check them often. Parents of children with feeding tubes recommend having a spare pump that is fully charged. Or get a power supply that can plug into your car to charge your pump or a small house generator.
TIP: If your child needs electricity for equipment such as an asthma nebulizer or feeding pump, check with your local law enforcement office or your local power company. There might be a priority list for power restoration or someone to check on you in case of evacuation. See our recommendations below about using nebulizers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It may be difficult to feed your child safely in an emergency. Food provided by shelters, the American Red Cross, churches and others during an emergency may not be safe for your child. Even if the ingredients are safe, there is the potential of for cross-contamination.
The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends at least three days' worth of non-perishable food. You may need more for the sorts of disasters that occur in your area. Make sure you have some safe food before an emergency strikes. Keep it in a box so you can grab it when you need it, and not have to look for it.
You may not have access to a stove, oven or microwave. So it's best to stock up on safe foods that do not need cooking.
Include a few treats or fun foods as well, to help ease stressful situations for your child. Do not worry about balanced meals during this time. Just think about filling hungry tummies.
Here are some foods that might work in a disaster kit if safe for your child:
- Special medical foods and formulas
- Proteins: beef jerky, sunflower/soy/pea/peanut/other nut butter, tuna pouches, Spam™, canned beans, canned chicken, canned ham
- Grains: cereal, oatmeal, crackers, trail mix, cereal bars
- Produce: canned fruit, canned vegetables, applesauce
- Snacks/Treats: fruit snacks/leathers, chips, pretzels, cookies, candy, non-perishable fruit pouches or fruit cups
- Drinks: juice pouches, bottled water
- Other supplies: disposable plates and cups, plastic ware, manual can opener
- Pets: supply of safe food, their medications, and bowls
Check the kit often for foods that have passed the expiration date and replace them with a fresh supply.
TIP: Only include foods you know are safe for your child, as you do not want to risk a reaction to a new food in the middle of a disaster!
Disasters can affect water supplies in different ways. Flooding can cause contamination.
Power outages can knock out water treatment plants or well pumps. Earthquakes can damage underground pipes.
So you may not be able to use tap water for drinking, washing hands, flushing toilets, brushing teeth, and doing dishes.
The American Red Cross recommends storing one gallon of water per person per day. That means a three-day supply for evacuations and a two-week supply if you are stuck at home. For a family of three, that equals at least nine gallons of water, and maybe more.
Other Supplies You May Find Helpful
In addition to medicines, food and water, there are other supplies you can add to your kit.
- Extra batteries (charged and ready) for feeding pumps, nebulizers, flashlights, etc.
- Hand wipes for cleaning hands, faces and surfaces
- Disposable diapers and wipes, as it may not be possible to launder cloth versions
- Safe diaper cream, soap, shampoo, etc.
- Chargers for cell phones
- A WRITTEN list of contacts (doctors, family, etc.), in the event that phones run out of charge and power is out
- A house phone that only requires the phone line to work. A power outage could leave you without mobile or powered/cordless home phones during an allergic or other medical emergency.
- A copy of your child's emergency action plan
- Medical alert contact information, if you use such a service
- Plastic bags for trash, contaminated clothing and supplies
- Change of clothing for each member of the family
- Small games or toys to keep kids occupied without power
Considerations Due to COVID-19
Preparing for natural disasters may be more challenging this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. You need to take extra precautions or prepare a bit differently.
Consider these tips as you prepare:
- Choose home delivery for disaster supplies and prescriptions when possible instead of in-person shopping. If you must shop in person, wear a mask, practice physical distancing and wash your hands often.
- If your child has asthma and uses a nebulizer, ask their doctor if they are able to use an inhaler. Nebulizers can spread virus particles in the air, and people can have COVID-19 and not have symptoms. Your child may be able to use a metered dose inhaler with a spacer and a face mask or a dry powder inhaler. If your child's only option is to use a nebulizer, find a way to use it in a separate room away from other people. Clean and disinfect the room after using it. It's important to keep your child's asthma well-controlled, especially during a natural disaster and the COVID-19 pandemic.
- When packing your evacuation kit, include hand sanitizer or hand sanitizing wipes that are at least 60% ethyl alcohol (ethanol) or 70% isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol).
- If you must evacuate, check with your local government for their direction because of COVID-19. Be prepared for symptom checks, physical distancing and to wear face masks or coverings at shelters. And don't forget extra face masks or coverings.
- If staying with friends or family, continue to follow steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, such as frequent handwashing, covering coughs and sneezes, and physical distancing as much as possible. Avoid staying with someone who has symptoms of COVID-19.
Kids With Food Allergies thanks Kathryn Hankins for writing the original version of this article, first published in 2012. Updated August 2020.